Genes reunited at family party

OF the 81 people present, 25 were my cousins. That includes those once, and in a couple of cases twice, removed.

Then there were 11 of my nieces and nephews, seven great nieces and nephews, all three of my siblings, a couple of my aunts, an uncle, various in-laws and out-laws, and just one or two people I’d never heard of before.

There were people born in every decade from the 1920s to the present one. Ages ranged from 90 years to six weeks, with another two not yet born but visibly present.

There were people I recognised only thanks to Facebook. Others, now middle-aged, who last met as children.

They converged on Woodbridge from Durham, Dorset, Stafford and Kent, from northern and southern France, and by the day’s end many were on their way back home.

There were teachers, students, chemists and engineers; environmentalists, language specialists, museum staff and computer wizards; several musicians, a few amateur painters and a professional sculptor. I think I was the only journalist, but not the only one to have a first book published this year.

There was undoubtedly a fair spectrum of political opinion present, but mostly I think various shades of red or pink. Which may have made it an unusual gathering for the sedate Elizabethan splendour of Seckford Hall.

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There were, as there will be at such gatherings, one or two slightly bitter undercurrents, but only one or two I was aware of.

There were far more meetings of people delighted to see one another after many years.

And there were, inevitably, people I’d have liked to spend much longer talking with.

Many of us agreed that we must meet up again soon, and often – and maybe in a few cases we really will. I hope so.

It was not, as you may have assumed, a wedding. Nor was it a funeral.

It was a joint celebration, between the two actual birthdays, of my mother’s 90th and my aunt’s 85th.

After which my aunt, Ruth Smith, had a tennis match in Essex. Not to watch, but to play.

While my mother, Hilary, was back on Wednesday to working with the old folks’ drama group she runs in Woodbridge, starting preparations for the Felbridge Court Christmas show.

The first of these clan gatherings took place near York ten years ago, and most of us probably assumed it was a one-off.

The second, marking Ru’s 80th and Mum’s 85th, was in Somerset.

Here’s to the next one, in 2016…


IF, like me, you’re a habitual watcher of Sky Sports News you’ll be drearily familiar with the ads. No doubt they pepper other daytime channels too.

There are the ones trying to sell you loans, sometimes to pay off your other loans. As if no one had noticed that the rampant loan culture was what got us – individually, nationally and internationally – into the mess we’re in.

There are the ones that hope you’ve had an accident so they can find someone to blame. And then screw for cash.

And then there are the ones that want to help you claim back the cash you should never have spent on PPI – payment protection insurance.

That came to a head this week with the deadline for claims of mis-selling.

Well yes, the banks and finance companies have been screwing us all over for years. So let’s give the dosh to lawyers instead. That’ll help.

Like most folk, no doubt, I’ve been offered PPI a few times, and I have a standard reply.

The same reply, as it happens, that I always give anyone trying to sell me extended warranties for various kinds of equipment.

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

Overpriced “protection” plans of whatever kind have always seemed to me to follow one of the first rules of capitalism.

A rule most succinctly put in an American form (of course): Never give a sucker an even break.


I WAS out of the country at the time, so I missed this summer’s big news, the riots in Tottenham, Croydon and elsewhere.

My mother, however, watched the news avidly. And like nearly everyone she was shocked at what appeared – if the reporting was at all fair – to be the primary motive among the participants.

Not protest (though heaven knows there is plenty to protest about in the country just now) but looting.

A free-for-all grab, a kind of supermarket sweep without rules.

Which is, when you think about it, a quite natural descent for a society obsessed with materialism and with getting everything cheap.

But did my mother really hear a looter address the camera, as he went by with a plasma TV under his arm?

And did that blatant thief really say: “This is my banker’s bonus”?

Seems too perfect really.

Because the only real difference between street looting and the multi-million pound pay-offs to Sir Fred Goodwin and his ilk is one of scale.

You can get an awful lot of plasma TVs on a �700,000-a-year pension.

The essential logic, the justification, is exactly the same in both cases.

They did it because they believed they could get away with it.